Have you ever had that moment where the words on the page jump off as they seem to have been written just for you? Can you remember that sensation of bewilderment and awe infiltrating your entire being when a certain passage of scripture grabbed you? I believe this is the very experience the author of Hebrews was describing in chapter 4, verse 12:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
I find the complexity of God’s word to be invigorating – one verse may drop me to my knees while these same words may incite a joyful dance in another.
Because this is God we are talking about.
It was 2003 and a dear friend frantically called me from a hospital in Michigan. I was in the throes of my Obstetrics/Gynecology residency and had little to no time that was my own. I pulled as many strings as I could, however, and hit the road to be with her. She had just lost her first pregnancy, an unexpected miscarriage, and she needed me.
Her husband invited a close friend of his own and we carpooled together. Our friends had been released from the hospital hours before our arrival and we were able to meet up at their apartment. The mood was cordial but somber, hospitable but heavy. After resting most of our first 2 days together, our friends decided they wanted a private memorial service for their late child, Asher, and they asked if we would put it together. We immediately agreed.
The next day we were all standing on a windy hillside of small-town Michigan. The sky was grey and its clouds were thick, both suggesting the threat of rain and paralleling our heavy hearts that hung precariously under the threat of despair. My traveling companion shared the first verse and had prepared a beautiful opening sermon. We then passed out candles and each retreated for our private moment of solitude to grieve, cry-out, and let go.
We reconvened at a central wreath of flowers and I was invited to share the benediction. Accompanying the shared word, my friend requested that a certain song close out our ceremonial time of remembrance. You see, she was a worship leader, an amazing vocalist, and an outstanding musician – song was invaluable to her.
The song that my friend requested? “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Obediah Chisholm.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
My friend had just lost her baby. She was still actively recovering from the invasive surgery required to save her life while simultaneously grieving the loss of the child she could not save. How could this song be her first choice?
Well, friends, I believe the answer is found only in the power of His living and active Word.
The author of this hymn, Thomas O. Chisholm, was a simple man born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He lacked any formal education and yet was able to pursue a career as a teacher and newspaper editor by the age of 21. At the age of 27, Thomas gave his life to the LORD at a revival being held in his hometown. Chisholm went on to become an ordained Methodist minister and yet his liturgical career was cut short by illness. He relocated to be closer to his family and continued to write poems out of his unrelenting passion and pursuit of the LORD.
In 1923, Thomas submitted a few of his poems to Rev. William H. Runyan, a musician with Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute and an editor at the Hope Publishing Company. Runyan was moved by Chisholm’s poem, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and wrote its accompanying music that same year. This hymn was picked up by Billy Graham and his international crusades and it was immediately favored by all.
When asked what inspired the writing of this particular poem, Chisholm was said to have had “no special circumstances which caused its writing—just his experience and knowledge of Biblical truth.”
Here was a simple man whose greatest achievement was birthed out of his lifetime of pursing Jesus. Out of his own journey, with financial hardship and physical illness, he transcribed a song that would minister to my grieving sister’s soul 80 years later.
How could this even be possible?
Let us remember this is God we are talking about.
I didn’t initially feel any connection to this hymn she had chosen, so I went digging a little deeper. I quickly learned that the scriptural context for this particularly poem of Chisholm’s could be found in Lamentations 3:22-23.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
THOSE WORDS JUMPED OFF THE PAGE.
Of course my friend wanted this song. In the depths of her loss and despair, there was His unchangeable truth she had to embrace—her life depended on it. Marriage, medicine, and friendship were exhausted of all that our limited venues had to offer. Now was the time where she just needed Jesus.
Friends, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
His mercies are new every morning.
May you be encouraged today that yes, while hope can be hard, GREAT is the Lord’s faithfulness.
That great faithfulness is unchanging and true for each of us. Amen!